You Can’t Watch SNL’s Hilarious “Downton Abbey” Sketch Legally Online, So NBCUniversal Pirates Itself

All I wanted to do was share a funny “Downton Abbey Meets Spike TV” skit that was on Saturday Night Live this week. Unfortunately, there’s no authorized version of the sketch online from NBCUniversal. That made me hesitate, but apparently it wasn’t a problem for iVillage, an NBCUniversal-owned site. Nor was it an issue for Time, owned by internet piracy hating Time Warner. Come along. This is a sad tour of failure all around.

NBC: No Skit For You

You’d think the sketch would be available on the SNL site itself. You’d be wrong. Here’s what I see at the moment on the video page:

The skit’s not listed.

Hulu: No Sketch For You

Well, how about Hulu, which has the awesome ability to let you share particular segments out of a full-length episode. Here’s the “full-length” episode of SNL from this weekend at Hulu, with this message at the bottom:

The message reads:

Full episodes of SNL consist of material that is cleared for online streaming. Some sketches and musical performances may be omitted due to various restrictions.

As it turns out, the Downton Abbey skit appears to be one of those omitted sketches. I went through the episode that Hulu provides and couldn’t find it.

Is It Available Anywhere?

Oh dear. I’m unable to share that sketch legally, it appears. Or at least share it in a way that wouldn’t get challenged by NBCUniversal as not being fair use. You know, like this example that was put on YouTube:

That, of course, hasn’t stopped others from doing so. Here are plenty of places the video is available, as found through Google Video:

Time (Of Time Warner): We’ll Give It To You

Look at the second listing. See the URL, Yes, as in As in Time, the magazine and online web site owned by Time Warner — which backed the SOPA anti-piracy bill. What do we find there? This:

There’s the skit! It’s not hosted by Time (of Time Warner) itself. Rather, it’s hosted on Google’s YouTube. Time is simply embedding the clip, on a page with Google ads at the bottom (those are the “Sponsored Links” that are showing).

So Time is helping support the same type of unauthorized posting of content that its parent Time Warner is concerned about — and happy to blame Google for — and doing all this while earning some money from Google.

More Media Outlets Will Give It To You

Hmm. If Time Warner-owned Time did this, could any other media outlets have done so? Yes. Here’s a short list:

iVillage (of NBCUniversal) Will Give It To You

Wait. iVillage is owned by NBCUniversal? You mean that NBCUniversal might be argued to have helped pirate itself?

You betcha. Here’s the page:

There’s the unauthorized video, embedded at the bottom of a story on an NBCUniversal web site.

But Back At NBC: No Skit For You

Hey, how about watching the skit as part of the full-length episode that NBC provides on its own site? It doesn’t appear you can do that, either. I’ve gone through it (and sat through the same “Star Wars: The Old Republic” ad about 10 times in doing so). That sketch doesn’t appear to be there. Why not? Apparently, it didn’t air on the West Coast — that might be part of all this.

The Fail Recap

Have you kept up with all the fail going on here? Let me recap:

  • No one can watch the sketch as part of the episode NBC/Universal provided for free on broadcast TV, because it’s been cut
  • No one can share an authorized version of the sketch, because NBC/Universal hasn’t yet provided one
  • Those paying for Hulu Plus can’t even view the clip through one of NBC/Universal’s authorized channels
  • Media outlets wanting to write about it, not having an authorized version, effectively said screw it, we’ll link to an unauthorized one
  • One of those media outlets was owned by Time Warner, a major opponent of online piracy
  • Another of those media outlets was owned by NBC/Universal, so effectively helped promote piracy of NBC/Universal’s own content.

Now Enjoy Until It Gets Pulled

Now go watch the sketch while you can, which was damn funny. Three daughters. One hot. One way hot. And the other one:

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″][/youtube]

Postscript: See Why You Can’t See SNL’s Great “Game of Thrones” Sketch On on AllThingsD for what likely happened to the SNL Downton Abbey skit — probably pulled over some rights issue. I did try for an answer from NBC, but they never answered.


  1. says

    Up until this week, SNL episodes were available in full on the Xfinity (Comcast) site. This week, the show disappeared from the lineup under NBC. However, if you use the search box, you can get to the Channing Tatum (is that his name?) episode and watch it. EXCEPT that it’s 58 minutes long, including commercials. SNL is a 90 minute show, so it looks like they cut out a lot more than that sketch.

    Very odd.

  2. Janet Shingleton says

    Thanks for taking the time to detail all of this because I was getting frustrated looking for it. I’d love to know NBC/Universal’s “reasoning” behind all this, if there *is* any. Don’t they know it comes back to hurt their image in the long run? If so, they don’t appear to care.

  3. Dee says

    Thanks so much for this diatribe. I was super frustrated at looking for it myself (and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find it in the Hulu full episode.) Now I get it.

    As an entertainment exec, I can surmise that there must have been a legal stop put on this which would be why it was pulled from the West Coast feed after making it on the LIVE East Coast feed. And explaining why its not available anywhere.

    Either an issue with Spike TV or more likely with BBC UK & the owners of the Masterpiece Theatre content, which is licensed to PBS in America for only a specific run. Andy Samberg grabbing the content and using it without permission likely made the legal suits freak when it went live and they pulled it from everything else.

    Ahhh a benefit to living on the East Coast and modern technology which allows some of us to still see it 😉

  4. Jo says

    This moment in failure really isn’t as impressive as the post makes it seem. Bloggers who write for Time and iVillage looked for a video of the skit to embed and found one on YouTube. They probably weren’t aware of any rights restrictions and most likely didn’t even think about it.

    It’s a stupid oversight, no doubt, but not as grand as the post implies, as if NBC as a company went and spilled egg on its own face.

  5. Dee says

    Sorry Jo, but anyone who “writes for” Time or iVillage surely knows that they have to submit their material thru some sort of chain of command – and they would also surely know that there are countless restrictions on copyrighted material owned by NBC. They would also know that Hulu is the authorized displayer of NBC content. One would also think that there is a “boss” of editorial content on these sites that monitors what a hired blogger is writing and/or posting up there. If not, Danny Sullivan’s point is extremely well taken.

    While Time (a div of Time Warner) certainly knows better, they aren’t connected to NBC. iVillage on the other hand is indeed owned by the same mother ship, NBC Unniversal and this is a prime example of one division directly undermining another.

  6. LilTornado says

    And…. now the link you posted at the bottom of your article is BLOCKED by NBC Universal as copyrighted. 6 pm CST on 2-7-10.

  7. angela says

    FYI: I watched the West Coast feed and was able to see the Downton Abbey skit. I have Time/Warner and was able to record the full episode. I just watched it. The Downton Abbey video was the best part of the show. Such a shame that it can’t be shared.